Guest Blog: Doug Atkins – Eight Days After Aortic Valve Replacement

By Adam Pick on March 1, 2008

Doug Atkins and his regurgitating bicuspid aortic valve appeared on my radar about three months ago. (To learn more about bicuspid valves, click here.)

I was eating sushi in Tokyo when I received an email from his wife, Heather. Like most caregivers, Heather peppered me with a series of questions about heart valve surgery. In fact, Heather ended her first email with, “Sorry for all the questions, but I am doing everything I can to keep my husband alive.”

Now, three months later, Doug is returning home from the hospital with a new set of heart valves. Like me, Doug opted for the Ross Procedure operation, a special form of aortic valve replacement. I received the following email from Doug – just eight days after Dr. William Ryan operated on him. I thought you might like to read it to gain further insight to the patient experience relative to heart valve surgery.


Doug Atkins With Family After Heart Valve Replacement


Email from Doug Atkins

Hey Adam,

My recovery is going great! I feel really good at 8 days post-op! We got home last night and are settling in. It’s certainly great to be home.

I ended up choosing Dr. William Ryan at the new heart hospital in Plano, Texas (not sure if I told you or not). Doctor Ryan, the staff and the hospital was wonderful. I can’t say enough about everyone there – from the docs and nurses to the janitors and room service employees.

Similar to your experience, Dr. William Ryan was able to perform the Ross Procedure without any problems. I didn’t get out of surgery until around 8pm Tuesday night. I was Dr. Ryan’s second case of the day.

The only complication I had was that my heart would not stay in rhythm. Plus, the heartbeat was too low. That said, Dr. Ryan’s team put me on an external pacemaker for the first night, but then, as fate would have it, I had an afib that night and it put everything right back in line.

Following that, I came off the pacemaker and I didn’t have to go back on it. FYI, I never knew that I was on the pacemaker, but my wife was freaking out. I was taken off of the vent tube on Wednesday morning at around 8:30am without issue.

After that, pretty much smooth sailing. I did develop a small ‘rub’ between my heart and my chest wall due to inflamation, but they put me on a steroid and that took care of it. I could have been discharged after 5 days, but Dr. Ryan kept me one extra day since we had to drive twelve hours back to Tennessee.

By the way, I’ve been using the chest protector under my clothes and it has helped alot! Thanks for sending that!

And… Thanks again for what you do and for all of your valuable information in your book. It really takes the guesswork out of the entire surgical process.

Take care and stay in touch,


Written by Adam Pick
- Patient & Website Founder

Adam Pick, Heart Valve Patient Advocate

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

mercy says on March 2nd, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Congratulations, Doug and family. I am the mother of John Turan, scheduled for surgery this week at Shands Hospital, Univ. of Florida, Gainesville. I read with enthusiasm all of the emails sent by patients, I feel like I am part of all of your famlies. Adam’s book has been a blessing to us too, the patient, John and his care team. I don’t know what we would be thinking without it.

What is the chest protector? Is it something that will be given to John at the hospital, or what? Can anyone explain?

Speaking for our whole family, Salud!, may you contine to recover happily.
We loved the family picture. God Bless.

Maribel says on March 2nd, 2008 at 8:30 pm

Hi Mercy: Remember me? Sergio and Maribel (mitral valve replacement) I dont know if you entered again after you posted that you felt connected with us? did you? well if not let me resume here: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK with John, he is young and strong so be calm, I can´t tell you don’t worry because it is impossible but try to control you fear, think positive all the time, transmit him good feelings, they need to be calm and see everyone calmed around them, it’s like the flu he’ll catch it!!! One question: is he having symptoms of valve insuficiency? how did he found out he had a problem? just curious because my husband didn’t felt a thing before the surgery we founded out in a check-up!!! thank god! do you have surgery date? so we all here concentrate in sending him all our prayers and good thoughts!! Adam book is priceless, has he read it? I think is far more useful for caregivers which carry a heavy burden, for John is going to be a blink of an eye, for you 4 to 6 hours of pure adrenaline!!! My piece of advice when he goes to surgery don’t start thinking what is going on in the OR because I had a bad experience because I was thinking: now they are putting him on the ECC, now they are stopping the heart, now……and so on like if I really knew and then 3 hours later (when I thought he was in the middle of the surgery) a nurse called me and said: DR.Barragan wants to speak to you!!!!! can you imagine what I felt? hell!!! they took me to a family room all by myself and I waited there almost 20 minutes (the worst in my life) I thought he was dead, or he was having problems, something was really wrong it was to soon to speak to me!!!!! my hands were so wet that when Dr. came in the room I wasn’t able to shake his hand, and guess what? HE WAS PERFECTLY OK!!! the surgery was over quicker than they thought!!! see? I went to hell and came back with a brutal sweat!!!! so Mercy don’t count the hours, dont play doctor, just relax and wait ok? Send you a warm hug!

Maribel says on March 2nd, 2008 at 8:35 pm

Ohh! sorry and for Doug and Heather: CONGRATULATIONS!!! welcome to your second chance!!! It is always good to know somebody else went through it and came out ok!! I know you did the Ross procedure but they still put you one mechanical valve isn’t it?

Ari says on March 2nd, 2008 at 11:30 pm

Hi Maribel, why did your husband have surgery when he didn’t have any symptoms? I have a bicuspid artic valve and after my check last year the cardiologist said to come back after two years for another check. I’m 44 and fairly strong but being a Brit in Japan I do get very nervous and worried at times.

Doug says on March 3rd, 2008 at 10:34 am

Mercy and Maribel,
Thanks for the replies and I’ll respond to both of your questions.

1. I received the chest protector from Adam. He sent out an email before my surgery and I requested one to try. Not sure of his inventory, but he can at least point you in the right direction to get one. It was a huge help as it fits underneath your shirt and keeps it from rubbing the incision.
2. My pulmonary valve was removed and placed in my aortic valve position (in place of the bad aortic valve). A stentless porcine valve is then placed in the pulmonary valve position (not mechanical). There’s been alot of success with the use of the stentless porcine valve…even in the aortic valve position.

Hope this helps.

Take care,

mercy says on March 3rd, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Dear Maribel, Doug and Ari:

Thank you Maribel for your encouraging words of wisdom. I am a nurse and worked in ICU for many years, though never in open heart units. You can imagine what I can imagine! I try to remain thinking positive and when negative thoughts enter my mind, and sit down, center myself and pray for the Peace of the Lord. Then it happens: I am calm, the circumstances around me haven’t changed, but my attitude towards them has. I have to repeat that several times a day. For those who believe, this is the best piece of advice I can give now. John will check into the hospital tomorrow,tues, March 4, for surgery weds, March 5. We thank you with all our hearts for your prayers, I will continue to do the same for Sergio.

To Doug, thanks for the info on the chest protector, I will check with Adam.
I am also offering thanksgiving prayers for you and your beautiful family.

To Ari, John was born with a bicuspid aortic valve, and has been followed for that since it was discovered at about age 1. He is otherwise healthy and active, and has done everything, sports-wise, except jump out of an airplane (though at 18 he bungee jumped because he no longer needed our permission). About 2 years ago, he had an “episode’ pretty much like the one Adam described in his book happenning to him at the Mexican restaurant, except that John was in a meeting at work, and there was no getting out of being sent to the hospital for check ups. There, after 9 days of testing, he was told what we already knew, he also had a cardiac catheterization at the time, with a Swan-Ganz line insertion (measures different pressures in the heart and through the valves) during the procedure. He was then told to whatch out for symptoms and to do his next check up on time. When his second baby was born May 1/2007 she was sent to Univ. of Florida pedicatric cardiology dept. because they thought she may have a heart murmur (and since her father’s history). (see for stories and pictures on his blog).
It was then that they he was enrolled in the university’s Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program, where they follow patients from childhood on through–the baby was fine. This Jan, during his checkup at that program, an MRI revealed worsening of the aortic valve, and also discovered and aneurysm (a bulging of a blood vessel) at the ascendint carotid artery. It was time now to repair that as soon as possible. Just remember you are the CEO of your own healthcare. Make sure you get your check ups on time and are aware of what signs and symptoms to report. Asks questions, and seek answers even if involves getting another opinion.
Love to you all, Mercy, mother of John

Murali says on March 20th, 2008 at 1:50 am

Hi adam & all,

Adam I have found your site.

My mother whoz 65 years old, earlier under medical care (18 months) for high altitude related ailments, she was diagonised with clots in brain. Now doctors have suggested for arotal valve replacement, which should be done as soon as possible. My mom is short and currently weak.

Although she is willing for surgery in two weeks time, i am not sure what would be effect on her post operation, especially if she has to take anticogulation drugs, my concern is since she is already under medication for clots in brain, please guide me if you come across with a patient with clots in brain and successfully went thru AVR.


shirley says on July 15th, 2008 at 4:26 am

My partner had avr on thursday last week, He has had a few set backs and his heart wont beat regular on its own. He spent 3 days in intensive care and been placed in high dependancy unit now,there waiting another 6 days from today to check to see if normal heart beat will come back. They had more work to do when they got inside so they say, surgery took 10.5 hours???? I feel this was very long for what they have said has happened. We have had his files removed and no one speaks to you had to say we where taking it to the medical board through our family Dr to get answers. Most have still not been answered. He is wired up to external pacemaker and oxygen and loads of drips that we where not exspecting at dat 6. He is sitting up and breathing but has oxygen tubes still. He was hoping to be getting out of hospital on thursday but as exsternal pacemaker fitted this is no going to happen. We would not reccomend anyone get a heart valve surgery in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK at the Royal as the place is very dirty and the staff don’t care. Any Idea where do we go from here? Will he ever get any better than this now?

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